What’s your opinion on unavoidable NPC deaths?
What I’m writing isn’t meant to be a happy story all the way - think Beau Geste, but set in a more chaotic universe (Beau Geste spoiler: well, maybe that’s not really a good comparison, since by the end of the book only two made it out alive from hundreds). It’s going to have its moments but mainly intended to be an adventure story, starting with a desperate but still naive PC going off and joining the French Foreign Legion, before things start going very wrong. Set mainly in a desert outpost in French Algeria, and I’m keeping the timeframe vague, say between a decade or two before and after 1900.
I’m thinking of maybe implementing some unavoidable NPC deaths as the story goes on. It’s supposed to be a reflection about how deadly the Legion was - not all of your friends will make it out alive. Maybe you don’t, either (there will be checkpoints for the benefit of not having to replay everything from the beginning). Because that’s the mentality of the Legion back then: these are expendable men, soldiers sent to places where people die. The stakes will be made clear from the beginning, the moment the PC enlists. This is a place with no guarantees on survival.
It could be something rather straightforward. A battle, where someone with a high enough relationship stat gives up his life to save yours (since you were promoted to an officer sometime along the way, he thinks, better to lose him than a competent commanding officer during a fight). Or you get seriously wounded (possibly permanently) which takes you out of the fight, and the battle is lost with even more people dying and a hit to your reputation/competence as an officer.
Or it could be something more complex, like either choosing between one of two characters who are friends dying, or letting them both die. They are very close - there’s an implied spiritual bond between them.
The former will turn the surviving character bitter - though he understands it’s war so he will never antagonise you for it. He’s suffering, because the one who died has a more dominant personality, and he’s going to feel lost without him. If you go this route, eventually, his fate will be up in the air. He’s going to do something extreme, and although there’s a chance that he had survived (conflicting rumours and whatnot), you don’t see him again and never conclusively find out whether he lives or dies.
The latter choice has you letting them both die together in the fight.
Of course there will be NPCs that you have a choice on whether to save them or let them get killed, sometimes with a skill check, sometimes at some cost to you or others, and sometimes, just depending whether you (as the player) are feeling ruthless with your choices today or not. One I’m thinking of has its scenario yoinked from Beau Sabreur/Beau Ideal - a duty/love conflict but given more brutal circumstances.
For the greater good, you’d have to deliberately push someone away after he trusts and looks up to you for the past several chapters. There will be a reason why you develop a good rapport with him (it’s genuine and not something like being a yes-man) so this interact-able NPC will feel hurt by this treatment.
This eventually results in his death in a battle, but this way you have achieved that greater good (like saving a city or fort or something, it’s undecided) - or you can continue shielding him to some disastrous result with the rest of your company, resulting in much more death (possibly including a different interact-able NPC depending on your stats) and major damage to your reputation. The question here is, you want to be undyingly loyal to a friend at the expense of everything else, including betraying your duty and your men?
What do you think of an IF being this deadly to its characters, even though the circumstances can be justified? Is having a lot of NPC death like this too much of a betrayal to the player? Considering P.C. Wren himself has no guarantees on character survival no matter how brilliant said character is, could an IF go the same route as a book?
Sorry if this is a long rambling post. If you got this far, thanks for reading. I’m still at the “bouncing ideas” stage, and throwing everything to see what sticks.